New World Anxiety
ON election night I nearly lost my mother. Right around the time the results were becoming clear to most of the country, I found myself next to a hospital bed in the emergency room. There was a machine breathing for her and someone else’s dried blood on the floor near my feet. Occasionally I floated the hallway outside her room to give myself breaks from hovering over her unconscious body. Television screens with gleeful white faces celebrating victory haunted me. I felt an overwhelming sense of death.
The loss of an election, the possibility (or inevitability) of losing my mother, and everything else I stood to lose or had already lost was suddenly weighing on my back. A group of Black people huddled around me near the television. “They about to try to send us back to the cotton fields,” one woman lamented, to which a volley of quick responses assured that Black people would never allow that to happen again.
What some might call post-traumatic anxiety is not actually post- for Black America: it’s perpetual. The trauma we experience might change in appearance, but abuse at the hands of White America is guaranteed. Wondering what the updated terms of our suffering will be makes daily living a task. The anticipation of fresh pain drives many of us into private realms of disarray, horror, and confusion. My mother became deathly ill watching the election results; she suffers daily from the pain caused by a terminal disease.
In the corridors of the hospital, I imagined how horrible it must be for my mother, who has fought for her family all her life, to watch the U.S. be its regular racist self on election night. The death of hope is etched into Black minds; we watch, repeatedly, as so-called progress is drowned out by the sound of applauding white hands. It’s not expecting anything good that keeps us sick of this place so much as it is expecting everything bad, and getting it.
Black people have been tasked with building up the “New World” while the blood of those sacrificed for the American dream collects around our feet. We have watched our loved ones die or be killed for the sake of empire while Presidents come and go. My election night experience represents what it means to be Black in the U.S. The sinking feeling that I had in my gut–that many of us have in our guts–spans centuries. It’s the rational suspicion of creeping disaster in a place that only knows how to misuse you. The descendants of enslaved people, refugees, immigrants, and the colonized feel the trauma of the generations before us. Along with family narratives, traditions, and resemblances, many of us inherited distress. I’m suffering these symptoms because I’ve been forewarned by the blood in my veins of what is capable of happening to us here.
The troublesome New World is constantly creating new economies that are driven by Black demise; Black America has to adapt to the technological advances and grim visualizations that come with such updates. Our New World anxiety is in the stress of knowing what’s happening to us because we’re Black and being required to prove it. But we don’t see institutional whiteness make efforts to show it is not operating, as per usual, to inflict further brutality against us.
This world we’re in, that’s continuously being made new by old forms of violence, is shaped through those of us whose bodies are considered construction materials. It’s birthed through our deaths and maintained by our disposal. While some feel urgency in denouncing the new President, contemporary white terror, and fascism as “un-American,” these forms of violence are familiar. Those who compare Trump to Hitler neglect the fact American capitalism is and has been the epitome of white tyrannical violence. The commentators who call the latest wave of white political terror unprecedented, naively assumed that the anti-Black structure of American settlement had been suppressed. But these systems, from voting to the courts, are themselves the barbarism waged against us. America should rightly be denounced as a student and teacher of white fascist violence.
It’s inspiring to think about the intricate lengths Black people have gone to adjust our debilitating circumstances across the South, Central, North, and Caribbean parts of these so-called American lands. We have been lauded for our artistic creativity, heralded for our beauty, and feared for our strength. What’s fantastic about us is also devastating when you consider just how much our wonderful energy has been soaked up fighting for self-determination in our respective nations. The stressors we feel in a North American context are not inseparable from those felt by our diasporic cousins to the South. This country, which lays claim to Black people’s bodies without the guarantees of life or liberty, continually uses us without relief. Our subjugated presence has been a primary economic security for the empire. Anti-Black violence has been mined for every bit of its worth to build the United States. Now, it’s only fitting that in a post-9/11 world, during an ongoing “refugee crisis,” at a time when diversity efforts evoke fears of “white genocide,” white supremacist movements are growing.
It’s been more than apparent that the visceral reactions of white people across the U.S. have been rooted in their racist fears and paranoias. This onslaught of fear is birthed by the expectation that the brutality white Americans have inflicted will one day be returned. Now more than ever, we’re seeing members of the white constituency grasp at the reins of a steer that they supposedly controlled. For the last eight years, our country’s first Black President, who compromised at every turn, could not shake loose the symbolic “change” he utilized to be elected in the face of a paranoid white establishment.
Black America has to surf the whims of imaginary white paranoias, while White America sits comfortably augmented by centuries of violence. White America has implanted itself in our minds to an extent that may be impossible to measure. This is reinforced by the everyday violence waged against those considered other.
For Black America, continuous threats like police violence, displacement, and poor health are woven into the anxieties we’ve come to know as our every day. The listed names of the dead and dying–and those who are taken from us by force–grow in number daily. It’s these names that we remember and recite, often without having secured any substantive justice. The repetition of death is so frequent that those who call themselves activists or journalists have begun to build their careers off of speaking for the dead, seeking new dead people to “inform” us about, and replaying their deaths in the media when footage is available. Our detriment has been seen as an opportunity, rather than an unacceptable problem, for far too long.
But we will not allow this to continue. Not all of us who have been colonized, enslaved, and downtrodden by global capitalism are going to die off or be killed at the hands of white barbarism. Our numbers and our histories are too vast, and while there is no such thing as a perfect revolution, it must be realized, through history’s guidance, that empire and domination happen in phases. Despite understanding this, the anxiety of the New World is still present in the realization that we are subject to time. Whatever it is we’re waiting on, be it death or the destruction of systems, we can never be certain when it will arrive.
The anticipation of intergenerational trauma carries knowledge, foresight, and understanding that we can use to hold onto ourselves. That sinking feeling on election night was as much a realization that we need to be prepared to defend ourselves, as it was a worry about the future. The only response I have to offer a society that rests on my suffering is rebellion.
Our unrest is not fashionable, nor is it fun. I find myself so tired that I’m often disoriented. There’s a constant mental strain that comes with being in a place that calls itself heaven while treating you like hell. If this discomfort should lead us to fight, then we should call on the fires inside of us, ready to consume all oppressions that we can burn to ashes. Afterward, we’ll see ourselves back where we should be–not in this New World made at our expense, but somewhere safe.
In loving memory of my dear mother.